Tajani: No Territorial Claims on Croatia and Slovenia

By 12 February 2019

ZAGREB, February 12, 2019 - European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said at a plenary on Monday that in his statements in Basovizza, Italy on Sunday there were no territorial claims on Croatia and Slovenia and that he was sorry they were misinterpreted.

My statements do not mean territorial claims in any way. I was talking about Istrians and Dalmatians who speak Italian, whose many sons and grandsons were present at the commemoration. The Italian, Croatian and Slovenian peoples and states have strong ties and I'm sorry if the meaning of my words was misinterpreted. I didn't intend to offend anyone. I wanted to send a message of peace to everyone so that what happened then doesn't happen ever again, Tajani said at the start of the plenary after Croatian MEPs Ivan Jakovčić and Ruža Tomašić asked for an explanation.

Tajani said he was commemorating the victims on the Italian side as well as all the victims of that unfortunate period, Slovenians and Croats, and that he was talking in a historical context. Speaking of thousands of innocent victims, he underlined that it was not a matter of retaliation for the wrongs of fascism because, he said, among the Italian victims of unacceptable hatred, which was ideological, ethnic and social, there had been many who had nothing to do with the fascists and their persecutions.

With my presence, I wanted to remember thousands of victims, notably Italians, but also Croats and Slovenians, Tajani said, adding that in his address at Basovizza he wanted to highlight the path of peace and reconciliation between the Italian, Croatian and Slovenian peoples as well as their contribution to the European project.

By re-establishing the historical truth, it was possible to make a turnaround in the relations between Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, countries bound by a firm friendship today, Tajani said, adding that lasting peace between former enemies was the best example of how the EU was a success story.

During Sunday's commemoration for WWII foibe (karst pits) victims in Basovizza near Trieste, Tajani said "Long live Trieste, long live Italian Istria, long live Italian Dalmatia".

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday he had rung European Parliament President Antonio Tajani over his controversial statement about "Italian Istria and Italian Dalmatia" and told him that Croatia was extremely displeased with it and wanted an explanation.

Plenković condemned the statement in the strongest terms, saying it "has elements of territorial claims and revisionism" and that the government and his HDZ party were against it in the strongest terms. The HDZ is part of the European People's Party like Forza Italia, the party in which Tajani is a key figure.

"I spoke to Tajani today. I told him we were extremely displeased with such a statement, which is inappropriate, and we requested an explanation," Plenković said, adding that he expected Tajani to issue a statement on the matter.

"The Croatian government and the HDZ will always strongly oppose any statements which could have either territorial or revisionist pretensions," Plenković said, adding that he had not expected such a statement from Tajani, with "whom I've had a very good relationship in every possible cooperation situation."

"We've known each other very well for six years now and there's never been even the smallest hint of such a position, nor could it have been guessed," said Plenković.

"I don't want to justify him at all, it's very important that you understand that. However, putting into context the event at which this happened, in Basovizza, with the heirs of the people who left Croatian territory as well as the defendants of those whose lives, unfortunately, ended in the foibe, he was addressing them. But this doesn't exculpate him in any way from formulations which in Croatia, to all political stakeholders, I believe, especially the government, me personally and the HDZ, are absolutely unacceptable, and we made it very clear to him."

Plenković said Tajani's statement about "Italian Istria" and "Italian Dalmatia" left no other interpretation other than one of revisionism, adding that he assumed Tajani would say in his explanation that he meant the people he was addressing, not the territory, and that he told him so.

The leader of Croatia's strongest opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), Davor Bernardić, said on Monday that the idea that Istria and Dalmatia were Italian was "a basic idea of fascism" which had been fought against by Croatian antifascists in the Second World War.

The Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) and the SDP's Pula branch expressed regret that "the fate of this region is again being manipulated by people who do not live in Istria and Dalmatia."

"At a time that called for resistance to fascism as the common enemy, the people of Istria uncompromisingly joined the victorious side regardless of their Slovenian, Italian or Croatian background. What gives Mr Tajani, and his ilk, the right to use historical revisionism, which is not in the spirit of the European acquis communautaire and our values, to reopen divisions in this region where antifascism and convivenza (co-existence) are the foundations of today's society, the society of the 21st century," the SDP said.

"Unfortunately, statements like this are nothing but the consequence of an irresponsible policy, both in Europe and in Croatia, because they did not promptly respond to historical revisionism but are testing the limits of democracy and freedom of speech for the purpose of getting cheap votes," it added.

The SDP said it was particularly worrying that messages like this came from a person who was supposed to promote European values, wondering: "In what direction is the European People's Party group, of which the (ruling Croatian party) HDZ and Mr Tajani are members and which has a majority in the European Parliament, heading?"

The head of Istria County, Valter Felgo, said: "I condemn in the strongest terms such unreasonable and insane statements. Tajani is the current President of the European Parliament and as such he must respect historical facts, state borders and achievements on which the European Union is founded. To make such a statement in his capacity as European Parliament President is dangerous and disgraceful."

Flego said that Istria would never allow such statements to upset the co-existence of different ethnic groups that has been built for decades. "We have put in a lot of effort so that Istria can become a bilingual and multicultural region. Such brazen provocations cannot jeopardise this," Flego told Hina.

The IDS said that promoting the ideas of fascism was frightening, adding that their message to "all promoters of such ideas and ideologies is: no pasaran!"

Tajani's statement was also condemned by the SDP mayor of Rijeka, Vojko Obersnel, and the HDZ head of Split-Dalmatia County, Blaženko Boban, who said that "Dalmatia is a cradle of Croatianism ... and will forever be an indivisible region."

More news on the relations between Italy and Croatia can be found in the Politics section.